Range Rover's pretty bush baby

PETER LOUISSON
Last updated 09:38 28/12/2011

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Regardless of how you pronounce it - 'Evok' or 'Evoke' - the latest and smallest Rangie is probably the best product the company has ever done, though not, perhaps, if you're an off-road purist.

But on-road, it runs rings around its bigger brethren, because it is far and away the lightest Range Rover ever, at least of the modern era. That's also because it is based on the Freelander2 - there is around one-third parts commonality - and that vehicle is amongst the best of all the compact SUVs out there; it won a NZ Autocar comparison against the XC60, X3 and Q5 in 2009.

Nailing its best-ever Range Rover status is price. The Evoque can be had for $79,990, the point at which the Freelander line-up tops out, so that makes it comfortably the least expensive Rangie, like, forever. Oh, and it also happens to be the best-looking Range Rover in the history of the brand. Small wonder, then, that the company is embarrassed with over 35,000 forward orders. For the next year, in any event, demand will exceed the ability of the factory (and its parts affiliates) to supply. The first shipment here was snapped up pronto.

On the downside, for some families it will not be quite spacious enough, especially in three-door, four-seat Coupé form, while for others it may be too small to have sufficient gravitas. There are plenty of others, however, who genuinely want one for the right reasons: it has far and away the smallest environmental footprint of all Rangies.

Despite its alluring entry level price, perhaps the most significant barrier for many here will be the cost for the higher-end models. Six figures for an Evoque will seem like a big ask for a not especially large vehicle, and one with Freelander underpinnings. If this reminds of the X-Type and its Mondeo origins, don't forget that they're from the same firm, Jaguar Land Rover. You'd have thought once bitten and all that.

Moreover, with the ability to individualise the vehicle - try 16 contrasting interiors - the price can truly go ballistic. As evidence, the Dynamic (sporty) model we've been driving, with all its options, lists at an exorbitant $123,130. And the press three-door Coupé variant with its dress-up bits costs $127,290. Er, that's just $10k shy of the price of a Range Rover Sport TDV6. The top HSE Discovery4 diesel - a Landie, we realise - can be had for less.

But would you want to? Some of the Evoque options are a bit tempting. After driving it and experiencing its relative lightness of being, we've suddenly forgotten the elephant in the driveway that is any other Range Rover. We'd seriously suggest trying out the Pure model that lists for under $80,000 before signing for a six-figure Evoque. Folk overseas reckon that you're hard pushed to pick that this is powered by the lesser of the two diesels (400 vs 420Nm).

Could you make do with the base specification? Could you heck! That is, if you're willing to put up with 17-inch alloys, leather upholstery, LED fog lamps, push-button start-up, a rear parking aid (essential in a vehicle with a slit for a back window), a colour TFT screen and electric seat adjustment - plus Terrain Response, as in all Rangies. Even with the base model, you're buying what may be the best-looking SUV/crossover ever to have emerged from, well, anywhere. And that, along with the badge and the seriously well designed and well constructed interior - it feels vault-like - may be just about enough.

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But wait, because you do get more. Every model comes with a six-speed automatic transmission and a four-wheel-drive powertrain. A manual is to-order only, as is a front-drive variant, but virtually no one will bother with those.

Despite the fact it is designed more as an on-road vehicle, as is apparent from the Michelin Latitude Sport rubber, the world launch of the Evoque in the UK showed it could at least tackle a proper off-road assault course. It is said to go places any Freelander2 will go, though few will, of course. Terrain Response, Hill Launch Assist and Hill Descent Control all help here.

Whatever its capability, the impression of a solid build is very evident: the doors clunk home in satisfying fashion, the wheel has proper heft without being overdone, and the brake pedal action is reassuringly instant and strong. Furthermore, the new 2.2-litre diesel motor just seems to have grunt everywhere.

So the basics are sound, which again suggests the $80k version will be a fine starting point. Bear in mind, however, that this version gets the lower-output engine variant; it's the same 2.2-litre alloy engine, only in a different state of tune. You're looking at 110kW and 400Nm, instead of 140kW and 420Nm, the outputs of the Dynamic variant we drove. Given diesels are best driven off the torque, there shouldn't be a vast difference in straight-line speed between these two. What's 20Nm when it's being asked to shift 1873kg? Besides, the Pure version is said to weigh around 100kg lighter.

What's a huge step-change for Range Rover are the dimensions of the Evoque. It may be the smallest Rangie in a long time - at 4355mm, it is sub-Golf sized, though its width is imposing, at 1965mm - but even with all the options our vehicle had, like upgraded alloys, adaptive damping, a fixed panoramic sunroof and the like, it weighed 1873kg brimmed, near enough to identical to the Freelander2 2.2 facelift that we tested last year. The Pure starts out life at 1640kg claimed. Most Rangies - it really doesn't matter which model you choose - weigh 2.5 tonnes, or to be more precise, between 2536 and 2709kg, according to our vehicle data base.

As an aside, the forthcoming Range Rover Vogue, due this year, is aiming for a kerb weight of around two tonnes even. Don't be surprised if the Vogue resembles an Evoque that's been given growth hormones.

What you don't get with the five-door Evoque (and this you will certainly need to check for yourselves before purchasing) is a whole heap of space. While there is room for five in the vehicle - four if it's the Coupé, though three rear seats are a no-cost option - those in the rear won't want to be in the top decile of hugeness. And when all five head off for the weekend, each will want to know all about packing in minimalist fashion; I did a weekly supermarket shop for four, and there wasn't a whole lot of room left in the hatch afterwards. Space is rated at 575 litres for the five-door, expanding out to 1445 with rear seats flattened.

What Evoque is all about, remarkable size and weight aside (for a Rangie), is the astounding visuals, especially in Dynamic get-up, and as we drove it. Seldom does a production vehicle, especially in this class, look as if it's a concept vehicle that's escaped from an international motor show. The Dynamic theme includes 19-inch wheels as standard, but ours came with the $1900 20-inch alloy upgrade. Standard Dynamic cues include deeper sills and bumpers in body colour, and exhausts integrated into the rear bumper. Inside, it's all equally dramatic, regardless of theme, and there is no clear sign of the Freelander. Our vehicle looked resplendent in red, while privacy glass ($800) and a monstrous blackened panoramic sunroof ($1300) added to the evil allure. Rounding out the options were keyless entry ($1900 - touch the doors and they instantly lock or unlock), a cold climate pack ($1600, presumably for Central Otago summers), blind spot monitoring (a pointless $800 as the mirrors are designed so you can see what's in the blind spots anyway) and park assist ($1400). The latter could well be useful as the fifth-door window is a hand-span in size, and parking sensors notwithstanding, a system that works the angles might well instil confidence in those who have problems with manoeuvring into tight spots.

Finally, two serious options help explain the OMG price of our vehicle: adaptive dynamics ($2500, see sidebar) and the $7140 Dynamic Tech pack, which includes sat-nav, an HD audio server for music, a powered tailgate, front parking sonar, a rear-view camera, Voice Control, load stowage rails, and other bits and bobs.

So fundamentally, it's a piece of automotive art at a price. Is this the automotive must-have equivalent of an iPad? We were fortunate enough to have a BMW X1 xDrive23d for dynamic comparisons. See the January 2012 issue of NZ Autocar magazine for the fireworks.

MODEL: Range Rover Evoque SD4 Dynamic.
PRICE: $102,990 ($123,120 as tested).
ON SALE IN NZ: Nov 2011.
ENGINE: 2179cc, IL4, 140kW@3500rpm, 420Nm@1750rpm.
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic, all-wheel drive.
VITALS: 8.55sec 0-100 km/h, 6.5L/100km, 174g/km, 1873kg.
RATING:
 8/10.

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